Episode Seventy Nine 

The amber hues of the rising sun fell over the water, reflecting the morning’s warmth upon Lake Cardinal as the temperature seemed to escalate with the moment.  The sight of the lake in such a state of inner tranquility off in the distance would’ve been a moment of picturesque bliss if it weren’t for the uniformed officers patrolling over the beach landscape around the area where the tow truck was working to extract the remains of Brooke Morrison’s car from the Lake itself.  Watching in horror as the fragmented luxury sedan seemed to be crushed in the front like a miniscule soda can, Judy felt a shiver race over her spine as she turned her attention to Richard not quite sure what to say in a moment like this as his strong and somber silence had created an air of discontent between them.
“This can’t be happening,” Richard broke his eerie silence as he whispered barely above his breath as Judy placed her hand upon his shoulder.
“Rick, there has to be some kind of logical explanation here,” Judy offered up unable to deny to herself the damage that had been done to Brooke Morrison’s car.  Certainly the front of the car that was now being pulled from the water looked far worse than the rest of it had as while the police officers they’d first met with on the scene had informed the both of them that there was no body in the car when it had been initially spotted, the damage still left much to question about what had truly happened.  Even now the divers were out taking turns to seek out Brooke Morrison’s remains as the car’s positioning and frontal damage spoke volumes about the possible horrors that could’ve taken place in such a beautiful and otherwise tranquil location.
“What am I going to tell Guy and Avery,” Richard questioned lost in his own inner anguish as his eyes remained fixed upon the water, though it was quite clear to Judy that his thoughts were far from Coral Valley and from the remains of what seemingly happened to Brooke.
“We’ll find a way,” Judy offered up gently wishing there was something more she could do in a moment like this as Richard finally turned to look at her.
“How?” he questioned somberly as a heavy sigh spilled over his lips and she could see the obvious tension of a sleepless night taking it’s toll on him.  “How can I explain to them that she’s missing and all we have to go on right now are a big whirlwind of what ifs?”
“Rick, we’ll find a way to help them understand,” Judy explained gently wishing it were that simple as another diver smacked down beneath the water’s surface in an attempt to seek out what was left of the woman who’d worked so very hard to make her life miserable for all those years gone by.
Now as Judy thought to the last exchange with Brooke, she realized that this was far from the fate she’d had planned for the woman as while Judy despised her, she wouldn’t have wished an untimely fate upon anyone.  Though there was still the strong possibility that perhaps fate had given Brooke a way out of tragedy as her body was yet to be recovered, but as Judy turned her attention to the gnarled guard rail up above the area where they were now standing, just mere feet from where the car was being pulled from the water--where the twisted, tortured metal that once contained Brooke’s body was now being pulled from it’s premature burial.  Shaking the morbid ness of her thoughts, Judy tried to focus her attention to Richard once again as Dave Warner approached the two of them.
“Mr. Morrison,” Dave began in a somber tone as he moved forward.
“Chief Warner, what can you tell me,” Richard questioned almost immediately, an impatience filling his tone as he stepped in closer to the police chief.  “What have they found?”
“So far other than the car, well there are no signs of an apparent struggle from inside the car,” Dave explained taking in a slow breath, “so we’re not sure what happened when it went into the water other than if there was someone inside, they weren’t fighting their way out of the car from a first glance.”
“So then what are you saying?” Richard’s voice rose with the moment, “are you trying to imply that my wife did this on purpose?”
“No, that’s not what I’m saying that as all.  I could be quite possible that in the fall into the water, she could‘ve hit her head or was somehow knocked unconscious in the fall,” Dave backpedaled taking in a breath himself after the quick debriefing he‘d received on the way into the crime scene, “as that’s pure speculation at this point because as I said there are no signs of a struggle at this point, but given the water damage, well it might take some time to figure out just what happened here.  Granted the guard rail up there paints a picture of how the car might’ve ended up in this position, but the rest of the details are being worked on by my best men.”
“But that isn’t good enough,” Richard shook his head with a huff, “This simply is unacceptable as none of you can tell me what happened to Brooke.  All you can throw out at me are speculations and theories which right now don’t amount to anything without my wife…”
“We’re working on finding her,” Dave promised him feeling a tug at his stomach as he always hated this part of his job, “as I have the best divers working on finding her in the lake--if she is in fact in the lake.”
“Well where else would she be given the situation?” Richard questioned with a heavy frown.
“We’ve searched the beach and we’re working on correlation with the neighboring department just in case she winds up over in their end of the water…” Dave started again clearing his throat.
“So you think it’s possible that she could still be alive and just floating out there,” Richard questioned hopeful as Judy cast another look in the direction of the damage that now lay upon the beach as a reminder of the disaster that had happened the previous evening.
“I suppose anything is possible,” Dave began thinking about the situation he’d walked into, “though to be honest with you Mr. Morrison given the extensive damage to that car, I’d have to say if there was someone in it…well, then the chances of them making it out of that mess without a scratch…”
“Are slim to none,” Richard interrupted with a grumble, “but there is still a chance, yes?”
“Rick,” Judy touched his arm gently.
“No, Judy I need to know there is some kind of chance that Brooke could be out on the water right now and that she’ll be okay when they find her--that this is just some kind of mistake and she’s still alive…” Richard began unable to contain the feeling that swept over him as his hands started to shake with the moment, “She’s too stubborn to just die and we both know that…”
“Rick, she’s always been determined, but right now, well right now we need to start thinking about what happens next,” Judy exchanged worried glances with Dave, “You need to call Avery and Guy.”
“No, I can’t do that,” Richard shook his head in response, “I can’t let them think that their mother is gone until I know for sure.  I’m not going to jump to any conclusions about Brooke when there’s still a chance…”
“Rick,” Judy spoke his name gently.
“Judy, I can’t just accept she’s gone.  Not like this as Brooke has fought too hard for too long to make my life miserable so I don’t see her offering me up an easy out like this,” Richard replied turning to Dave, “Tell me that you’ll have your men keep looking for her as I have this strong feeling she could still be out there somewhere still alive…”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Dave nodded rubbing his palms together before motioning to Judy, “I’ll go see what’s happening down there.”
“Thank you,” Judy offered a poignant smile before turning her attention to Richard, “Rick, maybe you should take a moment to go sit down.”
“No,” he shook his head with obvious determination, “I’m not moving until they find her.  I want to see for myself before I believe that she’s gone…”

“Rick, I really think that right now you need to think about calling Avery and Guy as you don‘t want them to hear it from someone else when…” Judy started once again.
“No, I already told you that I can’t bring this news to them unless I’m certain of what’s happened.  Avery’s already had enough going on in her life and with this, well I just can’t do this to her right now and with Guy,” Richard’s face drained of all color as he thought to his estranged son, “oh Judy, this is going to kill him.  He and Brooke are so very close and if she’s gone…”
“He’ll need you to be strong for him,” Judy encouraged him, “He’ll need to know that you can pull together as a family.”
“He sees me as the one thing that made his life miserable and regardless of how I’ve tried to reach out to him, the only person who could do that for him is Brooke.  He loves her so very much that anytime he thought he was in some kind of trouble, he would be ready to jump to her defense and now, well, how can I tell my son that his mother could be gone forever?” tears filled in his eyes as he bit back a lump in his throat, “Judy, how can this be happening?”
“I don’t know,” she answered unsure of what to say as she reached out to him realizing that perhaps the only thing she could do in a moment like this was just hold on to him and be there with the support he needed as suddenly it felt as though the world was changing with the tragedy that surrounded the otherwise peaceful Lake Cardinal on this warm winter morning.


Jade wiped down the kitchen counter in Grady’s house while coffee perked along in the coffee maker. She wasn’t quite sure why she was still here, but somehow during the night, Grady had convinced her to stay. Maybe it was her own stupid hopeful belief that things could eventually work out that kept her here. Whatever it was, she wondered just what exactly could be accomplished by staying with Grady now that she wanted to beat him to a pulp.

She felt like a fool. How could she have been so arrogant as to believe that her influence in Grady’s life could get him to change his ways? She’d been living in a fairy tale, but it was all too obvious now that fairy tales simply didn’t come true.

Grady stepped into the kitchen and spotted Jade immediately. He stopped at the doorway and watched her for a moment. He’d known the very second he was left alone with Avery that all hell would break loose, and yet, for some reason, he’d allowed it to happen anyway. Hadn’t he known better than to just blurt out what he thought like that? Hadn’t he known that Jade would kill him when she found out? Maybe he’d just thought as he always had that he wouldn’t get caught. Somehow it always seemed that he did get caught and in the worst possible situation.

Somehow he’d been able to convince Jade to stay the night. He’d hoped that if they started fresh together in the morning, they’d be able to work things out. Only now, as he saw the tension in her shoulders as she stood against the counter, he didn’t think it would be as simple as he’d thought.

“Good morning,” Grady said softly as she turned to see him.

Jade spotted him and frowned. This would be so easy if she didn’t love him so much. Instead, it hurt like hell that she was going to have to lay down some laws that he either could take to heart or she’d be walking out the door.

“Morning. Coffee will be ready in a minute,” She spoke as she moved the cabinet to retrieve two mugs. She didn’t want to get started right away because she was terrified that she’d only get more lip service from him that would eventually break her heart. She just wanted to spend a little more time with him before the world came crashing down around them.

“I’m glad you stayed,” He said simply. He knew they were treading on dangerous ground now where only one false step would land them both in a world of misery.

She turned towards him and met his eyes. While his words felt sincere enough, she wasn’t sure if she could believe them, “Are you?”

“Do you really have to ask?” He asked as he felt her question sting him to his soul.

“After the last twenty-four hours, yeah, I really do,” She admitted as she poured them each a mug full of coffee.

“Jade, no matter what has happened, you have to remember that I love you,” He spoke with a desperate tone in his voice, hoping that somehow she would be able to believe in him.

She met his eyes and sighed, “You love your brother too, but that doesn’t stop you from trying to ruin his happiness, does it?”

“That’s different,” He defended.

“It’s not that different, Grady. You told me that you would try to put all that ugliness with Avery behind you, but you didn’t. The very first chance you got you lashed out at her, and that is not trying in my book,” She shook her head, “Grady, I don’t understand why you can’t just open your eyes and see that Avery isn’t as bad for Russ as you seem to believe. Russ loves her with his entire being…just like I love you. Why can’t you see that she may be flawed but he loves her anyway…yet again, just like I love you.”

“I wish it were that simple, but it isn’t. I’ve watched Avery destroy Russ’s life before, and I don’t want to watch it happen all over again. And believe me, Jade, it will happen. That woman doesn’t know how to be faithful to one man. She just finds one who amuses her for the time being before moving on to another poor slob to rip him a new one.”

“Avery is not Susan. Okay, I get that Susan screwed an Ashford behind your back, and I even understand that you’re worried about the same thing happening on Russ’s behalf. What I don’t understand is why you can’t give Avery the benefit of the doubt and see that she loves Russ and makes him happy. Why can’t you just see that?”

“Because it’s only an illusion, Jade. You can’t prove to me that the baby she’s carrying actually belongs to my brother. Lord knows she spent plenty of time with Brant Ashford not to mention that it wasn’t that long ago she was still hooked up with Bruce Mathis. Now, Russ comes along like a naïve knight in shining armor to save her ass,” Grady rolled his eyes, “And Russ is acting like a wet behind the ears boy in his whole hearted belief that the baby is his. He just wants to believe that he and Avery could pick up right where they left off and everything will still be fine and dandy.”

“Why can’t it? Why can’t things work out for a couple for a change?” Jade demanded, “Just because you’re too damn stubborn to let someone in to love you doesn’t mean that the rest of the world should be. You’ve closed off yourself to a lot of people who could have loved you, but you wouldn’t let them. That doesn’t mean that Russ should have to stop dreaming about true love. Why is it so impossible for you to believe that Russ and Avery can have the love that people dream of?”

“Because they can’t. She broke him into pieces one time before, and I watched him fall apart, Jade. I was there at the church when he found out Avery was gone. And then after she finally got around to sending him a letter to blow him off, Russ was a shell of a man. He lost his will to survive for a very long time, and I can’t help but wonder when the other shoe is going to drop. Sure things are great between them right now, but Russ thought things were great between them on his wedding day. That didn’t turn out so well, and now I’m just wondering how long it’ll really be before Avery turns on him again. And she will. She can’t resist the chance to jump at something she thinks is better.”

Jade shook her head, “And you can’t resist the chance to tell her how much you hate her.”

“It’s not like that really, Jade. It’s not that I’m trying to play out some vendetta against Avery. I just want to protect my little brother.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, your little brother is a grown man who can handle his own life and relationships. You, on the other hand, need some serious help in both arenas,” She declared as she carried her mug with her into the dining room.

“Jade, I’m trying here,” He began as he followed her into the adjoining room.

“No, you’re not,” She spun on her heel to face him, “You’re just treading water trying to stay afloat. You’re not trying to save yourself or our relationship. You told me you would try, but you didn’t really try at all. You put on a good show only long enough to get your claws into Avery one more time. So tell me, Grady, was it really worth it?”

“Worth what?” He asked in disgust, “I wasn’t out to try to get to Avery. I was only doing what I thought you wanted,” He countered.

“Don’t start putting your anger at Avery on me, Grady Denton. I did not ask Avery over here for you to lash out at her again. I thought you could behave yourself and repair your relationship with your brother. Stupid me,” She half laughed, “I actually thought that you were trying to start fresh, but that turned out to be just a stupid dream of a completely naïve girl.”

“I am trying to start fresh here, Jade,” He said desperately as he reached out to draw her near, “I’m trying to make a life for us.”

“No, you’re not. You’re still living with a world of anger, and that’s no way to start a life together,” Jade said tearfully, “I’m beginning to think that you were right when you said that we would never be able to work things out. Maybe I was just stupid to believe that this could ever work.”

“Jade, don’t give up on me,” He begged as he got down on his knees before her, “Please God don’t give up on me. You’ve brought me back to life with your love, Jade, and I would never have been able to come this far in my sobriety without you. Please don’t give up on me, Jade, please,” Grady pled with her as he wrapped his arms around her legs, doing his best to keep her from running away from him as he knew that he was teetering on a precarious ledge, and Jade was all that kept him from falling.


Blake stretched out from underneath the warmth of her blankets feeling her toes creep out from the bottom of her bed as the first hints of the morning pressed upon her soft skin.  She wiggled her toes once again savoring the sweet promise the new day had in store for her as she writhed beneath her blankets stretching out as her eyes slowly fluttered open.  She felt a yawn touch over her lips as she turned her head to her side seeing the figure hunched over in the recliner beside her bed.  Almost immediately a smile pressed over her features as she shifted on her side to take all of him in as a soft sleepy sigh spilled over his lips and she took the moment to just admire Seth from afar.
Propping herself up more completely on her elbow as she lay on her side, Blake’s eyes scrutinized his appearance as she thought back to the previous night when they’d been out back with one another.  She vaguely remembered him carrying her into her bedroom in a state of lethargy, but more so she could recall the warmth that had filled her as his arms had surrounded her.  Last night she could’ve easily found herself wrapped up in him forever, but given the way he was hunched up in her powder blue recliner across the way, he certainly hadn’t given in to the temptation that Blake surely would’ve been unable to resist after a night in his arms.  Now as the top three buttons on his burgundy colored shirt remained unfastened, she got a good glimpse of the beginnings of his muscled chest as a smile tickled over her lips at the memory of how good it had been to touch and tease that perfect body of his--of the way his bronzed skin had tasted over her lips.  In that instant, she felt a blush spill over her features and she found herself eternally grateful that he’d been sleeping and unaware of her shameful thoughts of him.  Still as her gaze collided over his every powerful contour, Blake thought back to the times in the past when they’d come so very close to that kind of sinful pleasure with one another.
“Get a grip,” she warned herself knowing that by now she was certainly cherry red as her face was now flushed with a combination of embarrassment and desire run amuck on her.
Sitting up straighter in her bed, Blake began to push her blankets aside in a slow, calculated movement careful not to awaken Seth as she tiptoed out of bed making her way towards the bathroom connected to her room.  Unable to contain herself she stole another glance in Seth’s direction smiling as she noticed his bare feet for the first time upon her carpet.  His shoes were carefully tucked away underneath the chair, but now his toes, much like hers were exposed to the morning’s breath of fresh air as they dangled out from beneath the tiny throw blanket he had wrapped around his legs.  Almost immediately Blake had a flash of inspiration as she changed directions returning to Seth’s side as her gaze played over those feet of his--those exposed, tempting toes that were stilled with his slumber.
“I wonder,” Blake felt a smile tease over her lips as she repositioned the nightgown she’d awakened mid-way through the night to change into in a brief moment of awareness, she knelt down before Seth’s feet unable to contain the wicked urges that had brought her back to him as her index finger moved in beneath his foot, curling over the arch as his toes began to wiggle in a reaction to her movement.  Excitement brewed behind her eyes as she repeated the movement watching him squirm once again showing obvious signs of what she’d suspected as a smile licked over her lips, “I thought so.”
“Just what do you think you’re doing,” Seth questioned groggily as his eyes opened and he felt Blake’s finger trail over his foot in a quick, teasing motion causing him to pull his foot away from her for a brief moment, “Blake!”
“What,” she questioned innocently moving back to sit on her legs as she was on the floor before him flashing him the most innocent blue eyes she could offer up in his direction as her fingers played into a fold of her nightgown on her lap, “I didn’t do anything.”
“Oh yes you did,” he couldn’t help but laugh as he shifted in the chair tipping forward to eye her intently.
“No I didn’t,” Blake shook her head adamantly, “I haven’t done anything Seth.”
“Yeah right,” he reached down to the floor pulling her up with one swift motion into his arms as a gasp fell from her lips and he hugged her in his lap, his fingers teasing over her sides, “Sure you weren’t.”
“Seth stop,” Blake wiggled over him feeling his method of tickle torture upon her for the teasing she’d inflicted upon his unprepared toes earlier.  “Seth, knock it off.”
“Not a chance,” Seth argued with her as a smile flooded over his otherwise sleepy features, “We’ll see who’s ticklish now.”
“I give okay,” Blake squealed her voice raising with the moment as she wiggled over him, “Seth, okay you win.  I was just playing around.”
“I didn’t quite hear you right…what did you say?” he taunted her continuing to tickle her as she shifted over him once again.
“I said I did it.  I was ticking you just to see if you’d wake up and now I’m almost sorry I did,” she admitted unable to contain the tears of laughter that pooled at the corners of her eyes with each teasing flick of his fingers over her until he stopped abruptly.
“You really mean that?” he questioned his face a sudden mask of seriousness as his dark eyes penetrated hers.
Blake watched him for a long moment of silence painting on a poker face of her own before shaking her head with a chuckle, “Nope, not at all.”
“I didn’t think so,” he reciprocated her laughter hugging her in against him as he kissed the top of her head, “You’re wicked.  I hope you realize that one Blake Ashford.”
“I know I am, but I know you love every second of it,” she teased back leaning in to offer up a quick kiss upon his lips as the lightness of the moment hung over them, but almost as soon as her lips met his, the intention behind the kiss shifted as she found herself craving something more than a playful moment between them.  She pressed forward into his solid strength, her arms sliding around his neck as he suckled upon her lower lip, drawing out an explosion of tiny sensations rushing over her every synapse as she thread her fingers through his hair urging him to deepen the kiss as he held her.
Blake kept her eyes closed allowing the tiny bursts of fireworks going off in her head to take control of her every impulse as his finger tips cascaded over the white silken material of her modest nightgown.  She felt a tiny shiver race over her as Seth’s fingers fanned out over her spine, smoothing over every crease in her nightgown as her arms dropped down over his shoulders, over the thick, sinewy musculature of his well sculpted arms as her heart fluttered with the movement.  Their lips remained intertwined in the hot fire of a kiss she’d initiated and as she shifted over him, she couldn’t help but revel in the soft sounds of the low, guttural moan that breezed past his lips into her kiss.
“Blake,” he murmured bringing his thick fingers into her golden tresses as he tore his lips away from hers, “baby, you’re killing me here.”
“You have to admit it would be by far the sweetest death you could ever imagine,” she whispered over his lips securing herself over his lap as her smooth thighs now straddled the muscled expanse of his body feeling the strength of him beneath her as her nightgown pooled up over her hips.
“I know I should, but I can’t argue that,” he tipped his head up to claim her sinfully sweet lips in yet another tantalizing kiss as she rose up on her knees for a brief moment before sinking down into his lap once again, the warmth of her upon his body’s sudden awareness to her.
“I know that,” Blake teased her tongue over his bottom lip, clenching his thick, dark hair beneath her fingers as she ground her hips against him, a low whimper rising up inside of her as she felt Seth’s obvious arousal beneath her, so very close to completing her, to ending the mystery of what it would be like for them to be together if only they’d found a way to break through those barriers that had separated them for so very long.  She dropped her fingers down over his abdomen suckling upon his lip a moment longer as she whispered over his skin, “as you’d be a fool to even try.”
“I’m an even bigger fool for thinking I could resist you when you’re all that I want in this world,” he confessed from his heart thinking to the way he’d felt about her as she reached for his hands guiding them in over her hips up underneath her nightgown as her blue eyes shone with the obvious heat of desire.  With her slender fingers up over his, she guided his touch over the creamy smoothness of her flat abdomen, up over rib cage until she urged him to cup her bare breasts.
Without thought or reason, Seth eagerly stroked her watching the soft sighs of anticipation that fell from her now parted lips as she rocked her body over his, bringing forth so many wild and wonderful fantasies that had haunted him since the day they’d experienced their falling out between them.  Her golden hair fell back over her shoulders as his thumb skimmed over her aching peak watching as another whimper erupted from within her.
“Seth,” she hissed his name closing her eyes and releasing her hold on his hands before her fingers raced up to his dark hair, urging him in closer to her.  She rocked her body over his as his lips dropped down upon her shoulder, tasting the silky, smoothness of her pale flesh as his own heart was pounding wildly in his chest.
“You’re so beautiful, Blake,” he whispered feeling her squirming grow more urgent as the strap on her nightgown fell off of her shoulder loosening the material with the movement and as more of her luscious curves were revealed to him, he felt his heart leap into his throat as the moment seemed to stand frozen in time for him with her in his arms.
“I’ve thought about you for such a long time,” Blake admitted honestly noting the way his eyes cast over her as if he’d found himself mesmerized by her and her beauty.  She wiggled a bit on his lap seeing the way his dark eyes reached out to her, and in those few seconds shared between them, a jolt of boldness poured over her as she shimmied her nightgown down her body, allowing it to drop down to her waist as she revealed herself to him.
“Blake,” he spoke her name in a low whisper, his eyes caressing her every curve as though her body was a temple to be worshipped and as she felt the morning air upon her, she sensed a hesitance from within him.  He pulled his hands out from beneath the material of her nightgown as though his touch could be the thing to cause her to crumble and shatter into a million pieces before him, but his eyes, oh the way they looked at her, seeing into her and caressing her without so much of a whisper or a breath coming from him as his eyes spoke volumes about what he was feeling for her in a moment like this.
“Touch me Seth,” she pleaded with him reaching for his hands and guiding them up over her curves once again as a moment of brazen boldness seemed to course through her veins, “I want to know what it’s like to have your hands on me again.”
“Blake, I want to touch you more than you can even begin to imagine,” he confessed allowing her to control his movements as he gently caressed her aching flesh.  Unable to control himself he leaned forward placing a soft, hint of a kiss upon her breastbone before turning his attention to the dusty mound before him, “I want to know all I can about loving you.”
“Then love me Seth,” she pleaded with him arching towards him as his mouth collected her rose tipped peak offering a world of pleasure that she’d spent a great many nights fantasizing about between them.  A soft cry escaped from her lips as he took his time drawing out sensation after blissful sensation from within as his fingers stroked the unattended mound leaving no room for neglect before his mouth teased over her again and again.
“Oh Seth,” she tugged on his hair claiming his lips in a heated frenzy as desire raged over her and she found herself crashing into the forbidden world of pleasure with him, “Make love to me.”
“Blake…” Seth began growing rigid upon her words as if suddenly colliding with the thunderous roar of a waterfall as he forced himself to break away from the kiss, despite the way his body was craving to give in to her every desire.
“Seth please,” Blake begged of him once again as she noticed the hesitance behind his features.
“Blake no,” he drew in a heavy, labored breath closing his eyes as though looking at her one more time would be his undoing as this was truly the one thing he’d wanted more than anything in his world.
“Seth, I know that you said that you wanted to…” she started to protest as he lifted his index finger to her lips to gently silence her.
“Sweetheart, if I make love with you, then I’m certain it’ll be my undoing,” Seth whispered tightly refusing to open his eyes as his heart raced in his chest pulsing fiercely as the scent of her, the very warmth of her within his reach sent him into a tailspin of longing and desire.
“But Seth, I don’t understand,” she frowned blinking back on the confusion of the situation as his eyelashes fluttered open and his brown eyes fixed upon her reaching into her and tugging at something she couldn’t quite put a place on within as another sigh fell from his lips.
“Yes, you do sweetheart,” Seth traced the outline of her lips as a poignant expression crossed over his otherwise handsome features, “Blake, if we make love right now, all that will remain is confusion and I’m not going to confuse you anymore than I already have.  I’ve turned your world upside down time and time again and given that you’ve been going through a whole world of chaos, then as right as this situation feels in this moment, you’ll end up regretting what comes next.”
“No, no I won’t,” Blake argued with him shaking her head as his fingers traced her cheekbone gliding up into her hair, “Seth, I don’t regret a moment of anything I share with you.  I know that I’ve been hurt and I still ache at what’s happened, but this...well, I’ve never, ever regretted a moment with you…other than the moments that were stolen from us…”
“Blake, I don’t want this to be one of those stolen moments for you,” Seth insisted overcome by the moment, “I don’t want to know how wonderful it is to make love with you only to know that once we’ve crossed that line, that you’ll live in a sea of regret.  I don’t want to hurt you and more selfishly I know that once I touch you--that once I love you, I’ll never be able to let you go again…not ever.”
“Seth…” she began again as he cupped her face in his hands.
“Blake, I know you’re not ready for that…I wish you were…I wish we were, but right now, well now what you need from me is for me to do this.  As much as I hate it, I need to prove myself to you before you can give yourself to me completely.  I need you to see me for who I am and know the truth about my intentions,” he paused as a glimmer of sadness washed over him, “There can’t be any room for doubt or regret when we make love as I want you to see my heart--to see the love I feel for you and not have anything else clouding that.”
“But Seth I…” she started feeling a moment of something that could quite possibly resemble guilt sweep in over her.
“Sweetheart, maybe it’s time I should get going,” he exhaled a painful breath as he reached down to her nightgown, slowly bringing it up over her body to cover her from his hungry eyes before he lost the strength to do the right thing as the mere memory of tasting her, of touching her was sure to be his undoing if he lingered in a moment of temptation.
“No,” Blake shook her head an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach, “please don’t go just yet.”
“Blake I…” Seth began turning his attention to her remarkable blue eyes.
“Stay for a while,” she urged him as a slow breath spilled over her lips, “I can take a quick shower and then we can have breakfast.”
“Blake, I don’t know if that’s a good idea as the very thought of you in there,” he motioned towards her bathroom, “naked would probably lead me to make some bonehead decision that’ll take away from everything I’ve just promised you.”
“Then let’s even the playing field,” Blake suggested decidedly.
“How so?” he gave her a curious look wondering where the spark of mischief burning behind her eyes was coming from.
“You can go take a shower in Kenny’s bathroom there while I freshen up and then we can meet downstairs for breakfast,” she suggested quickly, “as I’m sure he’s got something you can change into as he wouldn’t mind at all.”
“Blake, I still don’t think…” he began again as she placed her finger over his lips to silence him.
“That way while you’re thinking about me, I can imagine what you’re doing,” her eyes fell over him once again as her tongue dragged over her lower lip in an involuntary movement, “that way you’re not the only one in agony.”
He couldn’t help but let out an ironic laugh, “Blake, you are the only woman I’ve ever met that has made showering alone sound erotic.”
“Well, we could always skip over that part about being alone and you could join me in my shower,” she suggested coyly as a blush fell over her features, “We could have a hands off policy for the duration of the shower.”
“Baby, if I spent one more moment around your beautiful, naked body, then I’m going to succumb to temptation and we both know that really isn’t what’s best for us,” Seth sighed heavily wishing that he could just let loose and give up on being so stubborn about doing things the right way, but as he thought of the great many things his father had done to manipulate the world around him--the ways in which Dimitri had taken great pleasures in giving in to the self-serving hedonistic side that ruled his life, Seth vowed he wouldn’t repeat those mistakes that his father had gone to as they had ultimately torn Seth’s life apart.  With that thought in mind, he drew in a slow, determined breath, “I think that either I should leave or we stick to plan one about my finding something in Ken’s room.”
“Somehow I had a feeling you were going to say that,” Blake’s shoulders slumped as she reluctantly repositioned herself on his lap careful not to spark the flames that were simmering beneath the surface between them.
“In the long run, I hope one day you’ll understand why it has to be like this,” Seth explained watching her pull up off of the recliner and steadying herself on her feet once again before him.
“I understand Seth,” Blake confessed with a quick nod turning her eyes to the floor before she forced herself to watch him rise up from the chair once again, “I just wish it didn’t have to be this way.”
“So do I,” he confessed reaching out to touch her face in a chaste caress, “but I’m hoping for the day that all of that can change for us as I truly believe it’ll happen once the truth shows itself.”
“I hope so too,” Blake replied with a heavy sigh wondering if she’d made too hasty of a movement in letting go of Seth Alexander, but as much as she hated to admit it, right now he had a point--one that she was certain she’d appreciate once this initial moment of longing had passed between them, but until then she was quite certain she was going to be in for a long, hard morning of frustration as the walls between them were nothing in comparison to the inner voice guiding her heart back in the direction of the man that she’d fought so hard to forget.


Ken held Caitlin’s hand as he sat beside her bed. After the doctors had examined her, deemed her stable enough to be moved from the ICU, and she’d been moved to a private room of her own, Ken had returned immediately to her side. While she’d returned to sleep after being examined and moved, she was still responsive to his touch.

He smiled as he lightly brushed his fingertips along her cheek. He’d been hopeful that she would regain consciousness, and now that he could feel her squeeze his hand in hers, it felt a bit like a miracle.

Caitlin stirred gently and looked towards him as she gave his hand a gentle squeeze, “Hey you.”

“Hey yourself,” He spoke softly as he lifted her hand to his lips for a gentle kiss, “Do you need anything? Do you want a doctor or a nurse? Can I get you anything…anything at all?”

“No,” She shook her head gently as she looked to him with tired eyes, “All I want and need is to have you here with me,” She said as she smiled at him weakly.

“That’s my thoughts exactly,” He pressed another kiss to her hand, “I’ve been so scared that I’d never get to tell you just how much I love you. I’ve been terrified that the last time I saw you would be a time filed with pain,” He paused, “I want to spend happy times with you, Caitlin. I want to push the rest of the world out of the way and just make the world a beautiful place to be for us…just us.”

“Shhh,” She urged him, “Ken, I’m not going anywhere.”

“Thank god for that,” He said with a soft smile, “I was terrified that I’d never get the chance to tell you just how much I love you. I wanted you to know that you are everything in the world to me.”

“Ken,” She spoke as she motioned for him to come closer. She touched his cheek as she met his eyes, “I love you so much,” She whispered as he eased his forehead against hers, “You brought me back from oblivion. Thank you for loving me,” She said softly as she drew his lips to hers for a tender heartfelt kiss.

Ken held onto Caitlin’s hand as he lowered his head to her shoulder to stay close to her. He wasn’t going to leave her now that she had come back to him. He would never leave her side again.


Zack stood outside the room where Kenneth Ashford sat at Caitlin’s side like a caring lover. While he put on a good show, Zack had a sinking suspicion that things were nearly as forgiven as Ken would have liked. In fact, he was going to make sure that Caitlin remembered just why she had been so vulnerable when Jimmy attacked.

He groaned as he looked to the floor and rubbed his temple. He hadn’t gotten a lot of rest since Caitlin’s attack, and now that she was conscious again he could probably sleep without tossing and turning. He knew his body was anxiously awaiting the moment when he’d finally give in and let himself rest.

“Zack, you should go home and get some rest,” Julia announced as she placed her hand upon his shoulders.

“Not until I have a word with Ashford in there,” Zack frowned as he glanced back towards the room, “He needs to know that just because Cait’s awake, it doesn’t mean he’s welcome.”

“Why do you hate him so much?” Timothy asked from his seat nearby, “What has he done to your sister to make you hate him?”

“I don’t really hate him. I just don’t trust him. He and Cait were fighting before the attack, and I got the impression from her that he was upset with her for something stupid. I’ve tried to keep him away from her because I was afraid he would upset her,” Zack explained.

“But he didn’t upset her, Zack. Just look at them,” Julia urged as she watched Ken and Caitlin inside the hospital room, “Caitlin came back to us because Ken was at her side. She found her strength because of him,” She smiled, “She truly loves him, and no matter what petty argument they had before, it doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that Caitlin is awake.”

“It does matter, Mom. She would have been more aware of her surroundings if she hadn’t been so preoccupied with whether or not Ashford was upset with her. And then to make matters worse, Blake practically told her that she was a liar before Caitlin left my apartment,” Zack ran his fingers through his shortly cropped hair, “So I didn’t want her around either.”

“Blake is Caitlin’s best friend. While things might have been tense before the attack, I’m sure that Blake wanted nothing but Caitlin’s recovery,” Julia attempted to reason with her son.

“I don’t want to hear anymore defenses of the Ashfords, okay?” Zack took a deep breath as he spotted Johanna coming towards them. He watched her approach and wondered just how she would try to manipulate this situation.

“I heard Caitlin was doing better so I thought I’d drop by,” Johanna explained her presence as she looked between all the members of the Vaughn family.

“She’s doing much better,” Julia smiled, “I’m glad you dropped by. I think Zack needs to be reasoned with.”

“Oh really?” Johanna asked with a slight smile, “What’s he being stubborn about this time?”

“To answer that question thoroughly would take all day,” Timothy quipped with a smile.

“Right now, I think he needs to go home to get some rest,” Julia answered as she looked to her son, “Zack, you don’t have to worry. We’ll be here with Caitlin.”

“I told you that I’m not going until I have a word with Ashford,” Zack reminded them.

“Jo, could you please take him home?” Julia pleaded.

“Zack?” Johanna spoke his name as she reached out to lightly touch his arm, “You should rest. If nothing else, go home, take a nap, and come back to be with Caitlin tonight. You can’t really be here for Caitlin if you’re a walking zombie.”

Zack glanced to her and saw the concern in her eyes. For some reason, no matter how hard he tried to distance himself from her she found a way to break through his defenses. He nodded, “Okay, I can do that.”

“I’ll take him home,” Johanna smiled at Julia, “Tell Caitlin I’ll come back by to see her later. I’m sure all of you want to spend time with her right now.”

“Yeah, but right now, Caitlin only wants to spend time with one person,” Timothy stood and approached his wife, slipping his arms around her, “And I think it’s just what she needs.”

“So do I,” Julia smiled as she leaned back into her husband’s embrace.

“I wish I could be so sure,” Zack added before he and Johanna walked towards the elevators to leave the hospital. He might be leaving now, but he would have his chance to warn Ken not to mess with his sister. He wasn’t about to let any Ashford harm his sister…no matter what their relationship with Caitlin was.


“I find it hard to believe you’re having this much trouble with your computer,” Jenna grumbled clicking away at a few keys on the keyboard to Hart’s office computer as he leaned in over her shoulder watching her intently not really caring about what was going on with the computer she’d been so furiously working away with for the last half hour after he’d invited her over to help him work out a few things he’d been having ‘trouble’ with, “I mean it’s all very simple as you just click control and then this key right here…”
“Uh huh,” Hart nodded clearly not paying attention to what she was really saying as his finger tips teased in over her shoulder before he knelt down beside the chair she was seated.  He took a long moment to admire the soft, sensual curve of her neck before temptation grew too hard to resist and he dropped his lips down to steal a taste of her warm as honey skin.  The scent of her exotic perfume tantalized his senses in every way imaginable as he spoke up in the first hints of a whisper beneath her earlobe.  “Has anyone ever told you how good at this computer stuff you are?”
“Has anyone ever told you how transparent you are,” Jenna questioned finally feeling a moment of clarity fall upon her as she turned her head to see the mischief burning behind his eyes as he slowly pulled his lips away from her skin, “You never had any computer problems here, did you?”
“Of course I did,” he nodded adamantly pointing haphazardly to the monitor before him, “as you could clearly see I didn’t have the first clue what was going on there this morning.”
“Hmm, so then if I hit this button right here then you wouldn’t have any idea what was going on right,” Jenna teased her finger over the delete key as Hart’s brow lifted with a quick flash of panic and he collected her wrist in his fingers bringing it up to his lips.
“I’m just guessing you probably shouldn’t be doing that there, Jen,” he offered a quick tease of his lips over the pulse point in her wrist feeling her body’s responsiveness to him as his eyes perused her within that one savory moment.
“And I’m thinking that you need to come up with better excuses to find ways to get me over here,” Jenna spun his chair around so that he knelt before her.  Unable to contain herself she shook her head at him as a soft groan spilled over her lips, “You’re hopeless I hope you realize that.”
“Hopeful is the more operative word in this situation,” Hart remarked with a teasing wink, “and besides can I help it if the woman I love just seems to have the golden touch with my computer?”
“You really expect me to believe that one,” Jenna threw out a skeptical look.
“Well considering that you seem to have it with everything else that surrounds you,” he crept up in towards her collecting another soft kiss from her lips, “I’d find it hard to believe that there was anything in this world that you didn’t excel at.”
“Good answer,” Jenna smiled against the kiss, “and I’m thinking that it gets you extra brownie points there for waking me up early on my day off to come down here and do this.”
“Well, as much as I hated doing such a dreadful thing, the computer truly needed your touch,” Hart curled his arms in around her waist as he knelt before the chair eyeing her intently.
“I’m starting to believe that the computer wasn’t the only one in need of it,” she teased her fingers over his tie tugging on the end of it as she claimed another savory kiss from him.
“Truth be told I was missing you immensely last night after Wayne decided it was a good night for bonding with you,” Hart’s lip curled into a frown, “as I’d had such high hopes for the rest of the night between us…”
“You mean after us nearly singeing everything in my office,” Jenna arched a perfectly sculpted brow, “What were you hoping for next?  That we’d burn my apartment down?”
“I was thinking along the lines of us generating some very deserving heat between us,” he nodded as a goofy grin spread over his features, “though I must confess that I had envisioned a certain degree of pleasure to accompany it this time instead of a rain storm.”
“Hmm, well I don’t know, there is something to be said about you half naked and wet there,” Jenna traced her fingers up over his tie further pulling him in closer towards her, “but last night Wayne really needed someone to talk to.”
“Something wrong,” Hart questioned with obvious interest.
“He’s just going through a lot of pressures right now with his thesis and he wanted some help with it,” Jenna admitted thinking back to her late night with her brother, “I’d made the mistake of mentioning that I didn’t have to go into work today, which in retrospect must’ve been foresight telling me I’d be too embarrassed to be in there today, but nonetheless I’d promised Wayne that when I had a spare minute, I’d be there to discuss his thesis with him.”
“And how is it going?” Hart inquired propping his hands on the arms of his chair as his eyes memorized every beautiful line of her features.
“Well, it’s going and I think he’s doing a great job with it, but alas Wayne is a perfectionist, so what is good to me feels like it should be a revision for him,” Jenna sighed thinking about her brother’s determination and reasoning.
“Gee, now where have I heard that one before,” Hart chuckled with mild amusement as he eased his index finger over the bare skin of her arm approaching her elbow.  “I mean it’s not like the need for perfection doesn’t run in the family there, now does it?”
“I don’t feel the need for perfection,” Jenna began to object noting his obvious look of disbelief, “Well it’s true Hart.  I mean sure I might strive for order in my life, but it’s not necessarily a quest for perfection, but more so a hope to find some sense of peace in my life…”
“I see,” he rose up on his knees to bring his lips just above hers, “and what do we classify as in your life exactly?”
“Chaos,” Jenna replied with a soft huff as her gaze dropped down to his tempting lips.
“Hmm, so then I guess it would be safe to assume that all your theories on order are going out the window as we get closer as it seems that chaos suits you well,” Hart inched in towards her to offer up a quick kiss before she pulled back in retreat.
“I hate chaos,” Jenna frowned in response thinking of how hard she’d worked to maintain a sense of stability in her life.
“But you do love me,” Hart winked at her easing in towards her in an another attempt to bridge the distance between them.
“Ah, I’m afraid that does seem to be my downfall in life,” she sighed heavily unable to contain the laugh that built up inside of her as he reached out to her pulling her down out of the chair onto the carpeted floor with him.
“I’ll give you downfall,” he chuckled pinning her down beneath him as he rolled over on top of her stretching his body over hers as their eyes connected, “Now see, aren’t you glad that I coaxed you into coming over here this morning?”
“I don’t know,” Jenna’s arm curled around his torso as he hovered over her, “that all depends.”
“On what?” he inquired dropping down towards her to steal another playful kiss.
“On whether or not you brought me here to have us make fools of ourselves here at your workplace,” she teased back at him as their lips parted.
“Well, you know ordinarily I’d have to say that turnabout is fair play, but in this particular instance, it would seem that we have the office all to ourselves and since I spent most of the night in here catching up on the things that I would’ve much rather put aside to be with you, I think it’s safe to say that there will be no room for embarrassment this morning,” Hart promised her confidently as his palm teased over her side, down over her hip in a tender caress.
“Hmm, well are you sure about that?” Jenna questioned tipping up to collect a kiss from him, “I mean there aren’t any lit candles I should know about, right?”
“I threw them all away before I even thought about calling you,” he assured her with a goofy grin, “and Ken is at the hospital I’d imagine as he’s been having a rough week.  Judy’s not coming in until later this afternoon and well, the way I see it, this morning is all about you and me…”
“So you thought you’d cook up some silly story about my fixing your computer just so that you could give me ample opportunity to dive into your briefs, huh?” Jenna fought to suppress the giggle building up inside of her as they lay on the floor together hidden behind his desk.
“Something along those lines,” he nodded eagerly while lifting a curious brow, “Tempted are you?”
Jenna remained silent for a moment before curling her arms around him with an emphatic movement, “Oh you bet I am.”
“Now we’re talking,” Hart exclaimed bursting with enthusiasm as his lips collided with hers in a moment of untamed frenzy as he found himself more than eager to enjoy some alone time with the woman he’d fallen for, but before he could truly immerse himself in the moment with her, the faint sound of her cell phone came from up on top of the desk bringing them once again painfully back to reality.  A frown pressed over his lips as he noticed her immediate reaction was to get up and answer the phone.
“Hart,” she gave him a pointed look as he captured her wrist in hand bringing it up over her head on the carpet.
“No way,” he insisted capturing her lips in another eager kiss, “I’m not going to let this time pass us by…”
“Hart, I really should…” Jenna began to argue finding herself all too tempted by his spell binding kisses upon her.
“Jen, tell me that you’re just going to let this go for once,” he pleaded with her, his hands working their magic over her curves as he longed to take the time to spend these precious moments between them.
“Hart, I would, but I promised Wayne if he needed anything more, that he could call me on my phone,” Jenna explained with a frustrated sigh.
“So let him leave a message.  Tell him we’ll both help him with his thesis paper in a few hours,” Hart suggested brightly, “as I’m sure we’ll be of a much better mind by then…”
“Hart, I promised,” she repeated with a tiny groan, placing her hand in the center of his chest to nudge him away from her before wiggling out from beneath him to retrieve her phone.  Once she’d held it in her hand, she frowned seeing the caller id as suddenly she wondered if this was just another sign fate was giving her about the state of her relationship with Hart.  Casting one last look in his direction to see his puppy dog eyes, she drew in a slow breath before answering the call, “Hello.  Yes…no, I wasn’t…of course not…”
“Jenna,” he reached out to her watching as she rose to her feet speaking with the caller on the other end of the line.  He groaned inwardly laying back on the carpet as he could hear her short, proper responses and he began to wonder how in the world she could be so clear headed and reasonable at a time like this when all he could think about was ripping that phone out of her hand and bringing her back down to the floor with him once again so that they could finish what they’d started.
Suddenly a flash of what they could do in finishing swept over him and Hart decided that maybe waiting for her on the floor wasn’t such a good idea after all as he sat upright taking in a slow breath.  A few seconds later he rose to his feet seeing her finish her phone call just in time for him to lean over the side of his desk taking a seat as he winked at her.
“So what time did you tell Wayne we’d be there?” Hart questioned suggestively, “Hopefully not before noon.”
“Actually,” Jenna took in a slow breath turning around to face him as her lightness was replaced by something darker, something that had sprung forth after the phone call she’d just finished with, “that was work.”
“Is something wrong,” Hart questioned standing up once again as her features shifted with contemplation.
“Yes, no, I don’t think so…I mean I’m not sure,” she inhaled a slow breath rubbing her palms together as she tried to process the information that had fallen onto her lap, “It’s just, well it seems as though there’s been an accident out by Lake Cardinal.”
“What kind of accident?” Hart questioned noticing the apprehension behind her eyes.
“Brooke Morrison’s car was pulled out of the lake earlier this morning,” she explained shifting on her feet as the thought sank in.
“So you’re saying that you’re being called in because Brooke Morrison is dead,” Hart reasoned thinking about the situation at hand.
“Not necessarily,” Jenna shook her head as the thought hung over her, “They just called to alert me to the situation in the event that she’s pulled from the lake.  They have divers down there right now searching for her, but so far they’re coming up empty…”
“Then there’s a chance that she’s still out there,” Hart offered up hopefully watching the expression that crossed over Jenna’s features.
“Given the brief run down they gave me of the accident, I wouldn’t be surprised if they found pieces of Brooke in the bottom of Lake Cardinal, which means that I should probably start thinking about what comes next…like maybe going to see Avery so that she knows I’m there for her.”
“Avery,” Hart repeated as a moment of sudden realization passed over him, “Oh God, that’s her mother.”
“Exactly,” Jenna nodded in response, “and while Brooke and Avery have never truly seen eye to eye on things, something like this is bound to upset her.  I mean, my God, what is this world coming to Hart?  First my best friend is the target of a serial killer’s obsession and now her mother dies.”
“It doesn’t seem right,” Hart nodded in agreement.
“That’s putting it mildly as you have to wonder if karma is just out to work a number over Avery,” Jenna silently cursed the moment as she scanned his office seeking out her jacket, “and here I was having a tantrum because my mother lied to me about my father and I was thinking that I had it so bad, but here Avery could be without her mother.”
“Jen, I think those are two entirely different situations there,” Hart reached out to her seeing something completely independent of the situation with Brooke flashing through her mind.
“Even so, I’ve been sitting in a state of self pity here when I should’ve been thinking about how good things are going.  I mean sure Brooke was a bitch, but she’s Avery’s mother and when they pull her out of the lake…”
“You mean if they pull her out of the lake,” Hart corrected her.
“If and when,” Jenna added with a heavy sigh bringing her fingers through her hair, “well it’ll be yet another moment where I get to deliver some pretty awful news to Avery over the last few months.”
“So who says that you need to be the one to deliver the news there,” Hart shrugged his shoulders, “I mean by now I’m sure she’s already heard about the situation and by the time you speak with her, hopefully the emotional anguish will have a chance to settle in as you and I both know that you aren’t responsible for those who come into your door there after the fact.”
“Even so, this doesn’t make this any easier,” Jenna replied with an air of sadness, “In fact, maybe I should call Wayne.  He and Guy were friends growing up and I’m sure that Guy will need someone to talk to at a time like this considering that he and Brooke were so very close.”
“Guy?” Hart repeated with obvious confusion.
“Avery’s brother,” Jenna informed him honestly, “He’s had a hard time with some things growing up, but he and Wayne are still pretty good friends.  I’m sure if something’s happened to Brooke, then Guy is going to need all the support he can get at a time like this,” she finished reaching for her purse, “I’ll just call Guy and then check in with work and if there isn’t any further news on Brooke, then I’ll go and pay Avery a visit and see how she’s holding up.”
“Wait a second,” Hart urged reaching for his jacket, “I’ll go with you.”
“Hart, you really don’t have to as…” Jenna began again.
“I know, but I want to.  I want to be there for you as you’re there for your friend and hey when you call Wayne, if he’s up to speaking with Guy, then we can go pick him up.  How’s that?” Hart suggested hoping to help out in the current situation.
“I’ll call Wayne and tell him we’re on the way over,” Jenna decided after a moment’s thought, “then I can call and check in with the office from Wayne’s hotel.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Hart decided realizing that once again life had thrown his plans for him and Jenna a curve, only this time he realized there would be other moments for them as the loss Avery and her family may be feeling would take precedence over whatever sparks had been flying between him and Jenna.

Unable to quell the restlessness inside of him, Russell stepped into the brand new nursery looking around the room as traces of his mother’s handiwork lit up the nursery walls bringing forth a sense of life and joy that his one time home office had been lacking.  Even now as the new addition of color presented a warmth to the room, he thought to the miracle that would be coming into his life and he found himself overwhelmed with a sense of pride and happiness as he’d realized that he’d finally made it full circle in his life.  He was where he’d wanted to be with his dreams coming true, and yet as he thought to his brother’s obvious need to make misery out of Russell’s newfound happiness with Avery, a pain ate away at his insides as there was a time not so long ago when he and Grady could’ve made the most of such a moment--when there seemed like nothing could tear the Denton brothers apart.

“Grady, come on.  I don’t want to be late for my own wedding,” Russell called up the staircase impatiently awaiting his brother’s arrival before he finally decided to take one last, long look at his own reflection once again in the mirror.  He fidgeted with his tie finding himself overcome with a combination of nervousness and excitement as Grady casually made his way down the stairs whistling a tune to himself.
“I’m right here,” Grady remarked with a chuckle turning his attention to his younger brother, “You know if you’re late it’s not going to be a problem as I’m sure Avery will be once again running behind schedule as she’s notorious for being late.”
“On the contrary, Avery‘s only late when we have plans with you,” Russell couldn‘t help but tease thinking about his brother’s strange effect on his bride to be, “but other than that she’s always on time.”
“Yeah whatever,” Grady shrugged his shoulders not bothering to give Russell‘s statement a second thought, “Given the nature of the day ahead of you both, I don’t see her rushing to get it over with there as I’m sure she’ll want to draw things out as long as possible since we both know how she thrives on drama.”
“I don’t think that’s the case either,” Russell began to argue with him, “as this is a very important day for us both.”
“Take my word on this,” Grady patted his shoulder gently, “she’s a woman preparing for what has been drilled into her head to be the happiest day of her life today.  She’ll be late.”
“Even so, I need to be there on time as I don’t want to waste a minute of this as a day like this one comes once in a lifetime,” Russell took in a slow, uneven breath before turning around to face his brother, “So how do I look?”
“Like you’re going to throw up,” Grady chortled in response stepping in to help Russell with an adjustment on the tie he’d been wearing, “You know it’s not too late to back out on this one.  We can always skip town, send dad in to break the news to Avery and then go to Cancun or something and kick back for a few weeks enjoying the single life and freedom you opted not to throw away with the whole chains of marriage that would come after today.”

“No way,” Russell insisted firmly as he felt a lump forming in the back of his throat, “I’ve waited my entire life for this and nothing is going to keep me from being with her.  This is really it.  Today Avery is going to become my wife at long last…”
“And to think that I saw her first,” Grady chuckled in mild amusement scratching at his temple in reflection, “Avery was just this little nothing when she got up in my face on that school yard telling me where I could stick it for not letting her play baseball with the rest of us.  She thought she was really something there with that sharp tongue of hers and I swear it took everything I had in me not to pick the kid up and toss her half way across the playground, but you, well, you were smitten with her from that moment when she dared to challenge my views on baseball.”
“That’s because I never saw anyone raise their voice against the almighty Grady,” Russell laughed in response thinking back to the memory that his brother had conjured up in him, “I mean there she was this little girl in pigtails and a plaid skirt and she was telling my big brother that he was wrong.  To that day I’d never heard anyone say you were doing something wrong as not even mom or dad uttered those words…”
“And rather than jumping up and taking my side, you offered to play a game of baseball with her leaving me stranded and on my own,” Grady couldn’t help but chuckle as he shook his head at his brother, “I should’ve known she’d be trouble for us even back then.”
“Oh admit it, you like her,” Russell nudged his brother, “Even then you thought she was something special.”
“I thought she was something, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as calling it special,” Grady teased smoothing out the shoulders of his brother’s tuxedo jacket, “but she makes you happy and that’s really all that matters to me as I want this dream to be what you wanted it to be.”
“It will be,” Russell boasted excitedly, “and in having you with me at my side as my best man, well I know that I can do this--that I can really have the wedding I’ve always dreamt about with everyone that means the most to me supporting Avery and I as we finally make things official.”
“I’d have to say you two did that while ago.  Come to think of it as soon as Avery got breasts, I think mom and dad should‘ve been aware of the world of trouble you two were about to embark upon with one another.  Our parents still have no idea how many times you and Avery christened that old beat up couch of ours in the basement there,” Grady teased further throwing a playful punch in his brother’s direction.
“And you’re not about to start spilling the secrets about that either,” Russell warned sharply, “as I’d like to refrain from Avery’s father killing me on my first day as her husband there.  We still have to maintain some inkling of her virtue you know.”
“Hmm, well that’s about all that’s left of it too,” Grady snickered as Russell threw him a glare.
“Grady I mean it,” Russell warned again.
“Okay, I’ll try to keep my silence there, but no promises as the best man does have his speech there and those often take a life of their own,” Grady chuckled further amused by the color the expression over Russell’s features, “but hey, Russ, you know that I would never go out of my way to upset the balance you’ve found in your life as it’s about time one of us found it.”
“Well, I have to say I’ve had a good mentor there most of my life,” Russell smiled in response, “as I’m very proud to say you’re my brother and my best man today, Grady.”
“Hey, there’s no place I’d rather be,” Grady pulled him into an embrace, “well, that’s not entirely true as they were having this wet t-shirt contest down at Charlie’s later, but…”
“Grady, come on.  Be serious,” Russell shook his head at him as a groan spilled from his lips, “this is my wedding day.”
“In that case we don’t want you to be late to that church, now do we,” Grady’s laughter filled the moment as Russell returned to the present time finding himself in his child’s nursery holding one of the teddy bears his parents had picked up for the baby.
Taking a seat in the rocking chair set up in front of the window, Russell looked out into the yard seeing the first glimmer of the morning upon the horizon and he found himself wondering if there would ever come a day when he and Grady would see eye to eye ever again.  Closing his eyes he sank back into the chair, just feeling the slow movement of the chair’s rocking motion as he held the soft, brown teddy bear in his arms thinking about the previous evening’s chain of events leading to the blow out at Grady’s place.
“Hey you,” Avery’s voice beckoned him from his thoughts as she entered the room, tying the sash on her blue, fuzzy robe as she noticed the way he seemed to be lost inside himself.  She slowly approached him bringing her arms in around his shoulders as she leaned in over the back of the rocking chair holding him while she rested her head on top of his for a brief moment.
“Hey beautiful,” he brought his hands up over hers offering a tender squeeze as he tilted his head back to look up at her.
“I missed you when I realize you were gone,” Avery confessed tipping forward on her toes to lean over the back of the chair and kiss him tenderly.  She touched his face gently as their lips parted and she whispered just above him, “I thought that maybe you’d run off to the bathroom or to get a drink, but when you didn’t return I got a little worried.”
“I guess you could say I had a lot on my mind last night and this morning,” he sighed feeling her embrace as his finger tips traveled up over her arm, “but I didn’t want to wake you.”
“You didn’t,” Avery circled around the chair before settling in on his lap, “at least not in the ways your thinking as I just don’t seem to sleep right without you beside me.  I don’t know why, but ever since you found your way back into my life again, I just can’t find it in me to relax completely unless your arms are around me.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”
“Not at all,” he admitted honestly touching her cheek as he gazed into her dark eyes, “as I often find myself in that same very position.”
“Hmm, then we certainly have a situation on our hands, don’t we Mr. Denton,” Avery threw out a teasing smile as his arm curled around her more securely.
“That we do Mrs. Denton,” he leaned forward to kiss her gently before sinking back into the chair as he silently offered her the teddy bear in exchange for the chance to bring her further into his lap.
“I think we’ve got more than one quandary on our hands here,” Avery reached for his other hand bringing it into her lap as she circled her finger over the top of his palm, “as last night I know you didn’t want to talk about things, but maybe we should.”
“I just wanted to go to bed,” Russell sighed gazing out over the yard as Avery’s hand pressed over his chest.
“Yeah, but baby I know you weren’t sleeping as I could feel you tossing and turning all night after we came home,” she confessed searching his features as she nestled in against him, “Russ, you don’t have to pretend that this situation isn’t hurting you because I know better than that.”
“I just don’t understand why Grady can’t just let this go.  I mean honestly, why can’t he just see how happy we are together,” he frowned turning his attention to her once again, “I mean once upon a time we all got along pretty decent, didn’t we?”
“Well Grady always had his tiffs, but there was a time when things weren’t this bad,” Avery agreed snuggling in against him as she pulled her legs up a bit over the arm on the chair.  She settled more completely into his lap as his arms kept her close to him, “but then again if you really think about this, it’s not really his fault because he’s trying to be a good brother.”
“A good brother wouldn’t be so hell bent on refusing to accept you in my life,” Russell pointed out with a puff of frustration, “He’d just see how happy you make me and that would be the end of it.”
“Russ, as much as I’d like to see that happen, Grady isn’t going to change his ways,” she explained with a frown of her own, “He sees me as the woman who broke your heart and even now he’s never going to see me as anything, but that bitch who nearly destroyed you.”
“But you aren’t those things Avery,” Russell argued with her, “You’re the most wonderful, amazing woman and if Grady would just open his eyes…”
“Russ, he saw what happened on our wedding day and he saw you nearly go to jail because of what happened with Bruce, so in his own way he’s thinking like someone who wants to keep you out of harm’s way,” Avery insisted thinking about the situation that they’d found themselves in with his brother, “In his own way, he sees me as the thing that’s taken you down time and time again and feels he’s right in doing things the way he does.”
“But he’s not right and for you to sit here and try to defend the guy, well Avery I have to say that I’m surprised,” he offered up with a slump of his shoulders, “After the way he’s treated you…”
“Given what he thinks I put you through I’m surprised he hasn’t tried to burn me at the stake,” she replied with an ill-fated attempt at humor as she noticed the sadness that pooled behind his eyes, “Russ, baby, you can’t expect him to change over night.”
“No, I can’t, but I didn’t expect him to do what he did to you last night Avery,” he reminded her as traces of his buried emotions crept over the lines of his face bringing forth a mask of sadness an ache up inside of her, “We have so much ahead of us and I hate the thought of Grady being one of the things that stand in our way when it comes to happiness.”
“He only stands in the way if we let him,” Avery stated simply as she reached out to take his hand in hers once again, “and we won’t do that as long as we can help it.”
“It’s easier said than done as I can already feel the effects of what last night’s disaster had on us,” he remarked offhandedly as he turned his attention to the window once again.
“What’s that supposed to mean,” she questioned in confusion seeing another rush of sadness flood over him, “Russ, what’s going on?”
“I just…I mean last night I really thought that maybe just maybe Grady would tow the line and do what he promised,” he explained keeping his eyes on the window as he spoke in a low, shameful tone, “I really believed him when he said that things weren’t going to get out of hand, but then boom, here we are back at square one when I should’ve seen it…when I should’ve protected you from all of that…”
“Russ, I could hold my own against Grady,” Avery reached out to him urging him to face her once again, “You know as well as I do that he can’t hurt me unless he’s hurting you and that’s where my concern comes from.  He can call me anything he wants until he’s blue in the face, but while it might temporarily shake me up, it’s you that I care about.  I love you Russ and I hate to see you tearing yourself apart over this ridiculous hatred that Grady has for me.”
“He shouldn’t be doing it,” Russell argued with her raising his voice with the moment, “as we both know that despite whatever twisted reasoning he has, it’s just wrong.”
“Wrong or not, it’s just how Grady works and maybe one day he’ll come around.  Then again maybe he’ll never come around, but right now we need to focus on what we have here.  I want you to be happy with the life we have Russ and if you’re having any kind of second thoughts about being with me after what it’s done to your relationship with your brother…”
“You’ve got to be kidding me, right,” he eyed her incredulously as he noticed the way her eyes seemed to reach out to him as if to find some deep seeded reasoning behind his mood other than Grady’s behavior, “Avery, I could never have second thoughts about you or us as this is everything I wanted.  You’re the dream that’s filled me up inside for so very long and now that it’s become a reality…”
“Russ, I just think of the cost you’re paying for this piece of happiness,” Avery sighed as a tiny flicker of sadness pressed over her, “I just don’t want you lose something that means so very much to you because of me…”
“I’m not losing anything because if Grady truly cared about my well being, then he wouldn’t have spent so much time making you miserable and trying to work against us,” he decided realizing that his stewing over Grady’s actions was counterproductive as he held his beautiful wife in his arms.  “In fact, come here baby…”
“Where,” she questioned feeling him reposition her on his lap as his lips sought out hers for a tender kiss.
“Right here,” he murmured his breath buzzing over her lips as he held her, “Here I am promising you the world and a life full of happiness along with the fairy tale marriage and yet you’re the one here trying to pull me out of this slump I’m in.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Avery offered a tender smile curling her arms around his shoulders as she kept her eyes fixed upon the flecks of amber burning behind his green eyes, “as in being your wife I do have a certain sense of responsibility lined up here you know.  The princess can take care of her prince after all you know.”
“I don’t want you to feel obligated to have to put up with my whining as it’s really not necessary when I have the world in front of me with you,” Russell whispered reaching out to touch her face in a soft, barely there caress.
“Well, yeah that is something for you to think about as you know you’ve got the world right before you baby,” Avery teased with a wink before leaning in to kiss him once again, “but in the same respect it’s okay to vent your troubles to me every now and then as that’s what being best friends is all about.”
“Sometimes I guess you can say that I just try to keep some of this stuff that’s running through my mind from being a burden to you as I know we’ve had our fair share of situations to deal with lately,” Russell confessed thinking about all they’d been through in their short time as husband and wife already.
“Honey, you are anything, but a burden in my life.  Just knowing that you trust me enough to be candid with me is something special in itself and besides in being able to open up to me about what’s going on inside your head, well it just reminds me of all the reasons why I love you,” she tried to assure him, “I mean hey this is something that I think qualifies as another reason as to why we’re meant for one another.”
“Because I like to complain?” he gave her a strange look.
“No, because I know how hard it is for you to admit when something is bothering you, yet you’re opening your heart and thoughts to me at a time when you’d just as soon shut yourself off from the world around you,” she explained as a sad smile swept over her beautiful features, “That in itself tells me how much you truly love me.”
“I do love you Avery,” he declared dropping his hands down over her waist before his fingers darted in over her abdomen, “I love everything about how right we are.”
“We have a lot ahead of us Russ and I know that together we can find a way to survive anything that comes our way,” she breathed feeling a soft rush of hope expand inside of her at the way his hand pressed upon her body.  Feeling a strong connection to him in such a moment, she slipped her fingers over his, just content to be close to him as they held one another in their child’s nursery.
“You’re right,” he agreed feeling her snuggle into him once again, “we can make it through whatever the winding road of life has ahead of us.”
“There’s the spirit,” Avery encouraged him feeling a smile of her own spread over her face as she held his hand in hers, lacing their fingers together, “I mean look how long it took us to get what we both wanted in our lives, but now that we have it, well baby think about how good it was in that moment when this became a reality.”
“It was incredible,” he conceded with a proud smile as his green eyes fell upon her taking the time to memorize her beautiful features, “and it still is.”
“I know,” she tilted her head up towards him, her smile widening as the warmth of his body offered up a feeling of safety and security from within, “and I have no doubt in my mind that it’s only going to get better as time goes on.”
“Sounds like you have a lot of faith these days,” Russell noted with a warmth in his tone.
“I guess you could say I had the right person in my life to teach me to believe in miracles again,” she reached out to him touching his cheek gliding her fingers over his jaw line, “I love you.”
“I love you too Avery,” he bent down to kiss her tenderly, the powerful emotions in his heart falling from his lips as he held her, “I always have you know.”
“And I know that you always will,” she smiled as they parted, “which is why I have no doubt in my mind that things are going to have a positive spin for us with our families sooner or later.”
“I sure hope so,” he admitted keeping her close to him.  He began to rock the chair a bit in their moment of silence as he thought of all the things they had to look forward to in the future with one another and as visions of them together with their baby danced through his mind, he turned his attention to her abdomen once again.
“It’ll happen one day,” Avery tried to assure him once again noting the expression on his face as she gave him a sideways glance, “Okay, what’s on your mind right now?”
He shrugged his shoulders before answering, “You, us,” his hand massaged over her abdomen, “the baby.”
“The baby,” Avery repeated feeling the way he’d touched her, “you know that’s a pretty important topic that we need to start thinking about here.”
“That it is as we have a lot of planning ahead of us,” Russell agreed with a nod motioning to the room around them, “I mean my parents helped us out with the nursery design, but that’s only one part of what we need to look into as we have so many things to plan for such as thinking about maybe taking some classes to help us prepare for the day our little one comes into the when, picking out a name and…”
“A name,” Avery repeated as the reality of the moment hung over her, “Russ, do you have any idea how much thought will have to go into that?”
“I might have a bit of an idea,” he teased rubbing his hand over her once again, “but I’m sure together we can come up with something incredible that fits our child as we seem to come up with nothing short of perfection when we’re working with one another.”
“So I’ve noticed,” Avery smiled up at him, “though I have to admit that when we conceived this baby, we weren’t exactly working together like we are now…”
“Yes we were,” he couldn’t help but laugh as he took note of the sparkle behind her eyes, “but you were just too stubborn to admit to it at the time.”
“What a fool I must‘ve been,” she teased back at him as he urged her to sit up straighter as his lips grew nearer to hers.
“Ah yes, but we won’t dwell on that as I’ve clearly broken you of that habit time and time again,” he assured her teasing his lips over hers.
“Hmm…so it would seem,” Avery agreed throwing her arms around his neck as their kisses continued, “as I know now in being this close to you I’ll never be a fool again.”
“Good thinking,” Russell murmured nibbling upon her lower lip in a lingering kiss before parting from her, “How is it I got to be this lucky to have you in my life?”
“I tend to think I’m the lucky one here as I’m married to the most amazing man,” Avery whispered dropping kisses in over his neck as he held her.
“What did I do to deserve you,” he questioned lazily his hands sliding up over her spine as she placed tender kisses upon his skin.
“Well for starters you have the most incredible sense of patience as not many men would put up with me,” she breathed in his ear, “and you’ve also got the most beautiful heart of anyone I’ve known,” she pulled back to gaze into his eyes as he held her and a seriousness spread over her features before she continued, “and beyond that you have got the cutest butt I’ve ever laid my eyes or rather my hands upon.”
“Ah, so now we get to the heart of the matter,” he couldn’t help but smile watching her break out into a round of giggles, “you married me because you thought I was the guy with the nice behind, huh?”
“Well, there’s just something about it that well, when we’re making love, I just get this urge to reach out and touch it, but then again there are other parts of you that are equally delicious, so maybe that statement I made before was a little off considering that…” Avery continued playfully until he cut her off with a kiss.
“You’re adorable,” he couldn’t help but laugh as he curled his arms around her, “I mean here we are having a serious moment and then all of a sudden, you find all the right ways to make me smile and turn me on all in an instant when ten minutes ago the last thing on my mind was enjoying myself.”
“See, now that’s where you and I sometimes have a sense of conflict between us,” Avery plucked open a couple of buttons on his pajama top, “as you often take things so seriously that stress just weighs you down and it’s then when it’s my turn to make light of the moment and get you back on the right track.”
“Hmm, well if that track involves us getting back to those handcuffs that I tucked away last night after dinner because of my sour mood, then I’m game here,” Russell winked at her as she shook her head at him, her dark hair framing her face with the movement.
“You’re incorrigible,” she couldn’t help but laugh at the twinkle behind his green eyes as his hands dropped down over her hips.
“And you’re insatiable,” he nipped at her earlobe placing moist, heated kisses upon her skin as he continued to whisper, “as you like to tease me about being the one who can’t get enough of you, but you’re just as hot for me as I am for you.”
“You think so, huh,” Avery questioned feeling his fingers fan out over the curve of her hip, sliding up and down over the fabric of her robe before a moment of stillness passed between them and he sat upright, a sheer look of mischief crossing over his handsome features.
“I know so,” he replied fishing out what she’d been carrying in her pocket as the handcuffs he’d mentioned dangled in his hand.
“Now where ever did you find those,” Avery feigned innocence unable to contain the smile that was tugging at the corners of her lips.
“Hmm, I wonder,” Russell curled his arm around her kissing her boldly, “and here I thought you just came in here to cheer me up.”
“That’s exactly what I was doing coming here,” she started to argue.
“With no ulterior motives,” he arched a skeptical brow.
“None at all,” she shook her head as he dangled the handcuffs in front of her once again and she raised her hand to her chest still proclaiming her innocence, “as I have no idea how those got into my pocket.”
“Hmm, well in that case, I suppose we shouldn’t dwell on it because I know where they‘re going to be going soon enough,” he swiftly rose from the chair throwing her over his shoulder with a sudden movement, “as I think it’s time for me to take matters into my own hands until I get a confession out of you here.”
“Russ,” she wiggled her legs out wildly as he carried her out of the nursery with devilish intent, “where are we going?”
“To get the truth out of you by whatever means necessary,” he confessed kicking open their bedroom door with an overzealous movement causing the door to slam into the wall.
“Russ, careful,” Avery insisted feeling him rush over to the bed.
“I’m working on it,” he blurted out dropping her down on the blankets and moving in over her all in the blink of an eye as she felt his hands seeking out hers drawing her arms up over her head closer to the headboard as Avery caught a glimpse of the handcuffs flashing past her pillow.
“Russ, I thought we agreed that when we got to those that I’d be the one who…” she started to protest feeling him cut her off with a kiss as she felt the sharp snap of the padded metal cuffs over her wrist followed by his hand urging the other wrist into submission.
“Given that this morning is about cheering me up for a while, I thought we’d improvise,” he explained dropping his lips down to claim hers in a heated kiss before his fingers teased over her robe tie, unknotting the sash as she wiggled beneath him in mock protest.
“Russ, last night you said that you wanted to work on the fantasy I’d had all those years ago.  I mean I‘d just as soon imagined that you‘d be the one that…,” she insisted boldly with her eyes following his every movement.  He began to part the front of her robe to reveal the absence of her nightgown as his eyes sparked with the obvious flames of desire.
“Sure you did,” he grinned knowingly as his lips dropped down over her body wanting to explore this fun, frisky side of his wife after his morning of moping over Grady, but just when the moment seemed to be getting good between them, he heard the phone on the nightstand ringing.
“Russ,” Avery squirmed beneath him, feeling the wickedness of his tongue teasing over her, “maybe…”
“No maybes,” he shook his head propping himself up over her while reaching for the phone and ripping it from the wall before tossing it to the floor.  He moved up onto his knees feasting upon her with his eyes, rubbing his palms together as he licked his lips, “ah yes, where to begin…”
“Russ, I don’t know if you should’ve done that considering,” Avery’s words came to a screeching halt as he’d finally settled in on where he’d wanted to be with his exploration of her body and suddenly all that seemed to matter was his touch, his teasing as she writhed beneath him.
“Very nice,” Russell murmured over her heated skin feeling her arch up against him in protest.
“Russ, come on.  Take these things off of me,” she pleaded with him, “I thought we’d agreed that…”
“I’m rather enjoying myself here Avery,” he whispered dropping kisses over her shapely calf, over the ticklish spot near her knee, leisurely skimming his lips over her thigh as a shiver raced over her.
“Russ,” she blurted out his name curling her other leg over his shoulder in an attempt to gain some control of the situation they’d found themselves in as she was burning to touch him.
“Patience sweetheart,” he breathed dipping his lips out over thigh as the nearness of her turned him into a man on a mission as his thumb and index fingers slid up over her thigh in an L-shape reveling in the tiny shudders that raced through her as his lips followed suit.
“Russell,” she began again impatiently trying to sound firm as her words came out as more of a soft moan as his lips and tongue created a wicked diversion to her protests.
“Patience,” he repeated his mantra once again ready to delve into pleasing his wife as yet another loud, obtrusive sound ripped through the moment causing Avery to buck up against him in surprise with a squeal.
“Russ, that’s my cell phone,” she groaned turning her head in the direction of the sound.
“And that matters because?” he questioned lazily determination filling his tone as he teased his lips over yet another one of her secret hotspots.
“Russ, I…oh…oh Russ…” she whimpered his name dropping her head back into the pillow giving herself completely to him as her phone fell to silence replaced by the screams he was ripping from inside of her with his persuasive talents.  However, midway through the explosions, Avery found herself being brought back from the heavens as another boisterous, frantic sound poured through the walls of the bedroom causing Avery to jolt with a start.
“Russ,” she began breathlessly her eyes falling upon him as his head tipped up towards her, “what the hell is that?”
“My phone,” he confessed sheepishly, “I was playing with ring tones the other day and that one kind of just had a catchiness to it.”
“Bonanza?” Avery gave him a strange look as the squealing of his phone continued to sever the moment between them.
“Well, it seemed cute enough at the time,” he offered with a simple shrug of his shoulders.
“I’m sure,” she rolled her eyes before motioning towards the source of the sound, “though something tells me that whomever keeps calling us, isn’t going to give up anytime soon, so why not just answer the phone?”
“I can give you multiple reasons why I don’t really want to answer the phone,” his gaze lingered over her body as his fingers teased over her once again.
“Uh Russ,” Avery curled up against him unable to contain the movement, “if you don’t answer the phone I’m going to feel like we’ve just stepped into a really bad sitcom moment here and I’m just telling you now that I’m not going to spend the morning making love to that song.”
“Fine, then I’ll just turn it off,” he reluctantly tore himself away from her seeking out his phone as he prepared to turn the power off, but as his eyes fell upon the number before him, a curse fell from his lips, “Damn, it’s your father.”
“Then answer it,” Avery tried to get up from the bed, thinking to the cuffs she was in as a frustrated groan spilled from her lips, “Russ, come on.  I need to let him know I won’t be coming in this morning…”
“I really don’t think that now is the time for us to get into a lengthy conversation with your father considering that just a few minutes ago I was…” Russell started to argue with her as Avery used her toes to kick a pillow out at him as her impatience overtook her.
“Answer it now, Russ,” Avery hissed at him, irritation flashing behind her eyes.
“Oh alright,” Russell felt a crooked smile spreading over his features at the sight of her all hot and bothered before him. Combining that with her immense agitation, he thought of all the ways he’d use it to his advantage once her father was off the phone.  Unable to mask the laughter in his tone, he answered his cell phone brightly, “Good morning Richard.”
“I’m so going to kill you when I get out of these,” Avery groaned turning her attention to her wrists as she wondered why in the world she’d even bothered to let Russell take charge of this particular playtime between them, but as the memory of his lips haunted her, she felt a flash of desire rush down to the tips of her toes.
“I see,” Russell spoke into the phone, a seriousness taking over his tone as he turned away from her, “yes…of course…Absolutely.  We’ll be right there.  Thank you for calling,” he hung up the phone before turning to face Avery, a seriousness in his features.
“Well, what did he want?  Did you tell him I‘m not coming in this morning,” she questioned impatiently as her eyes drifted up to see the expression on his face.  He moved in beside her, pulling the key to the handcuffs off of the nightstand to release her in that moment of silence he’d carried with him after the phone call, “Russ, what’s going on?  What did my father say?”
“Avery that wasn’t your father,” Russell began taking in a slow breath as he reached for her hand cupping it in his, “It was Judy.”
“Is something wrong,” panic flashed behind her eyes as she sat upright, “Did something happen to my father?”
“No,” he shook his head somberly, “he’s alright, well as alright as he can be at a time like this as apparently there was an accident last night…”
“What kind of accident,” she questioned pulling her robe around her body as she noticed the way he was looking at her, “Russ, come on.  Out with it.  What happened?”
“Avery, they pulled Brooke’s car out of Lake Cardinal this morning.  The details are sketchy, but from what Judy’s explained your father’s upset and…”
“Oh God,” Avery gasped in horror as his words settled in, “is he okay?”
“He wasn’t with Brooke at the time, but they think that she might’ve been in the car at the time when it wound up in the water, but as of this moment they haven’t found her body…”
“Russ, are you saying that my mother is…” Avery’s jaw dropped as a shock and sense of horror flooded over her at the thought of what he could be telling her, but before she could take the time to register her feelings about the situation, she leapt out of bed quickly seeking out some clothing, “Where’s my father?”
“He’s down at the scene, but Judy said that the police asked him downtown to go through a few of Brooke’s things that they found,” Russell watched her shuffling through the various things she’d brought with her to the house to wear.
“My father must be really shaken if he had Judy call, which can only mean he’s hurting right now and Guy,” Avery paused as she pulled a random blouse out of the closet struggling to button it as her fingers were shaking with the movement, “Oh God, if something’s happened to Brooke, then he’s going to be…” she stopped the thought, “I need to see him…I need to be there for both daddy and Guy because right now…well, right now things will need to be done and…” she trailed off unable to contain the relentless tears that forced their way to the surface as Russell approached her bringing his hand upon her shoulder.
“Hey,” he spoke up gently urging her to look at him as her tears pooled in her eyes, “sweetheart…”
“Russ, if she’s gone, then there’s no telling what will happen to my brother as he depends on her for so very much and she’s the world to him.  I mean sure she and I didn’t get along as she could really be heartless at times, but now…” she felt herself overcome with a mixture of emotions as Russell instinctively reached out to her pulling her into his arms as her tears overcame her.
“I know sweetheart,” he spoke soothingly as she continued to sob into his chest releasing the buried emotions and mixed feelings that she’d felt about her mother over the years as the thought of her mother’s absence seemed to shake her up more than either one of them could ever imagine.


Gabe poured a glass of orange juice before taking a section of the newspaper from the pile upon the table and sitting down nearby. He began reading over the local news as Guy stepped in from the living room.

“Morning,” Gabe spoke as he saw his lover looking less than ready to face the day, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing really,” Guy yawned as he poured himself a cup of coffee, “I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“I noticed,” Gabe nodded as he put the newspaper aside, “What’s bothering you?”

“Nothing I can put my finger on. I’ve been just kind of at loose ends since last evening,” Guy shrugged before he sat down near Gabe, “I guess it’s just a case of senseless anxiety. I don’t have any real explanation for it. I just feel like something wrong…somewhere…with someone.”

“With all the stress in your life right now, I can see why you’d be full of anxiety,” Gabe reached out to take Guy’s hand, “But everything’s going to be just fine in the long run.”

“I wish I had your confidence,” Guy rubbed his neck with his free hand as his cell phone began to ring. He moved into the living room and read over the number on his caller id, “Great, it’s my father. Like I really want to talk to him this morning.”

“Then don’t answer it,” Gabe offered as he sat on the sofa and switched on the television, “You can just tell him later that you weren’t getting good service, or you had a dead battery,” He shrugged as he changed the channel to a local news broadcast.

“I knew I loved you for a reason,” Guy smiled as he tossed his phone back into a recliner before joining Gabe on the sofa.

“Of course you do,” Gabe teased before drawing Guy into a quick kiss, “What are your plans for the day?”

“I have a few items to look over in this deal Mom’s trying to work out with Marc Ashley.”

“Marc Ashley?” Gabe repeated the name in surprise.

“Yes, you remember the other day when I mentioned that I’ll need to attend a party on a yacht. That very yacht belongs to Marc Ashley,” Guy explained, “Why? Do you know him?”

“I…I might,” Gabe spoke vaguely, “There are many Ashleys in Europe, and I might have run into him along the way.”

“I suppose,” Guy froze as he watched the television, “Turn it up. Hurry!”

Gabe turned the volume up on the television as a reporter spoke.

“Details are sketchy at this hour, but the Coral Valley police department are on the scene at Lake Cardinal where it appears that a car belonging to Brooke Morrison has gone into the water. Divers are in the water as we speak while police search the banks for any explanation of what might have happened here. Cody, back to you in the studio,” The reporter explained hastily.

“No,” Guy stood immediately and grabbed his jacket, “No…this can’t be happening. That has to be wrong. It has to be. If that was my mother, someone would have called me.”

“Maybe that’s what your father was calling about,” Gabe suggested as he rose to his feet, “I’m going with you.”

“No,” Guy shook his head, “I…I’ll go alone.”

“No, you won’t. You’re in no shape to drive right now, and I’ll not lose you because you didn’t want me to accompany you to the lake. I’m going with you.”

“How could this happen? My mother is a attentive driver. She wouldn’t have just lost control…” Guy attempted to reason even as tears filled his eyes.

“We’ll get the answers you need, Guy, and we’ll get them together,” Gabe assured him, “Come on. Let’s get you down there.”

Guy nodded as he followed his lover out of the apartment. While he’d kept his life a secret from his mother, he’d wanted nothing more than for her to be proud of him. If she were gone…no. She couldn’t be gone. She was the incomparable Brooke Morrison, and no one would ever be able to take her down…not without one hell of a fight on their hands.


The piercing buzz of Brant’s alarm screeched through his bedroom bringing him out of one of the most delicious dreams of Avery that he’d had to this day.  The two of them had been on the beach, on that little exotic spot on the island he’d wanted to take her two and as they’d spent their time exploring one another.  It was certainly proving to be an eventful experience until it dawned in on him that the woman he was with was the same woman he’d spent that brief encounter with on the island as Angela was the woman in his arms, the warm body melting beneath his touch and just as he was about to put all the pieces of the puzzle together as to how Avery had become Angela, the damned alarm awakened him to the big, all too empty bed he’d fallen asleep in the night before at the mansion once again much to his dismay.  Now as he sat upright rubbing his head as a groan spilled over his lips, he realized this was going to be a long morning indeed as life was most certainly not going the way he’d hoped for.
“Well there’s always another fun filled day at work,” he grumbled to himself dreading the return to the company, but in that moment the thought of Avery swept over him and his grouchiness evaporated as he sprung to life racing to the shower eager to spend the day at the office if it meant being closer to Avery yet again.
Whistling a bright and cheerful tune to himself, Brant turned the water on stepping into his shower as the hope for things to come flooded over him.  He began to clean up imagining what cute and quirky way he’d capture Avery’s attention today when he had a sudden flash back to the time he and Angela had shared with one another back on the island in her shower.  Suddenly a whole new set of sensations whipped through him as he pushed himself underneath the water trying to banish how incredible that experience had been as he tried to stay focused on what he’d had planned for Avery.  Granted Angela was sensational, but given that she’d tossed him on his butt and Avery was what he’d truly wanted, he couldn’t help but want to kick himself for even allowing that time to even figure into his current state of mind.
Now as Brant finished up with his shower, he decided he’d make a quick run to the kitchen for a bite to eat and then head on over to work to begin the next phase in his plan to charm Avery as it was most certainly a matter of time before she was in his arms.  Jogging down the stairs as determination electrified his senses, he felt the same old self confidence that defined him all these years coming to the surface as no woman was immune to his charms and soon Avery would be his in every sense of the word.  Whistling a tune once again, he headed towards the kitchen when the sounds of Blake’s laughter filled the hallway.
“Well, it’s about time,” Brant thought to himself rounding the corner of the doorway only to discover Blake in the arms of Seth Alexander.  Watching as the two of them were engaged in some kind of cooking disaster, Brant couldn’t help but notice the way Blake’s eyes lit up as she sought out the pancake turner from Seth’s hands.
“Seth, you’re doing it all wrong,” Blake teased guiding his hand towards the pan, “if you don’t take the time to flip them right now, they’re going to burn.”
“Blake, I’m telling you that I’ve done it this way for years and…” Seth started to argue as the distinct odor of charred batter filled the kitchen.
“Ha, I told you so,” she lifted the pan off of the stove dumping it into the sink as a cloud of smoke followed the trashed pancake.
“Blake, I’m telling you now that I’ve never had a problem with making pancakes before now,” he leaned up against the counter watching her scratch the sticky batter off of the pan, “I’ve not burned a one.”
“Well you just did, now didn’t you,” she stuck her tongue out at him dropping the pan down into the sink with a thud as she shook her head with a tiny laugh, “though you know maybe this is a sign that we’re missing the boat here in attempting to make pancakes.”
“But I thought you wanted pancakes,” Seth lifted a curious brow watching her shuffle around the kitchen.
“Well I did, but now,” she bent down to reach into one of the cabinets pulling out a waffle maker she knew would be inside, “I want waffles.”
“Waffles,” Seth repeated with a hearty laugh as she shuffled the waffle maker in her arms before he reached out to take it from her, “and here you said that I was the impossible one when it came to deciding what I wanted for breakfast.”
“No I said you were the impossible one when it came to making breakfast,” Blake corrected with a grin, “as you were insisting that we do things your way when mine is obviously the better way of doing them…”
“So you keep saying,” Seth laughed lightly curling his arm around her as he pulled her in towards the place on the counter where he’d set up the waffle maker, “though what do you say this time you show me how you want it done and that way you can’t blame disaster on me.”
“Well, I suppose I can do that, but just this once,” Blake decided with a giggle sliding in between him and the counter as his arms wrapped around her waist and she motioned to the waffle maker and the bowl of batter before her, “now pay attention here as there’s going to be a quiz on this after we’re finished with this.”
“Is that right,” Seth questioned lazily watching her scoop some batter onto the waffle maker before he leaned down to place a quick kiss on the back of her neck.
Blake tipped back into his touch as she closed her eyes savoring the feel of his lips over her skin as a smile pressed over her features, “My you are a quick learner, aren’t you Seth?”
“I’m trying to be,” Seth whispered nibbling on her earlobe teasingly as the sound of footsteps entered the kitchen followed by the clearing of Brant’s throat.
“So what are we up to this morning,” Brant interrupted blandly his eyes drifting over to Seth with heavy scrutiny as he stood taller facing Blake’s latest companion.  “I didn’t realize you had company, Blake.”
“Oh Brant,” Blake quickly shuffled out of Seth’s arms feeling him tense up beside her before she reached out to embrace her brother, “I didn’t realize you were still here.  Up for waffles?”
“Actually I was just on my way out to the office,” he confessed hugging her closer to him as his gaze never strayed from Seth, “but then I heard you in here laughing…”
“That’s because Seth here doesn’t know the first thing about cooking,” Blake waved her hand at him before wrinkling her nose, “He was so convinced he was the pancake king, but he managed to burn every pancake we tried making.”
“I never said I was the king,” Seth interjected before growing silent once again as he and Brant exchanged glances with one another before Seth looked away from him.
“Hmm, well it sounds like you’re at least enjoying yourself which is always a good thing,” Brant kissed the top of her head, “though don’t make too much of a mess in here as I’m sure Annie will have your head for that if you do.”
“We’ll clean up after ourselves, though you know as I said before the offer is always open for a waffle Brant as we’re just about finished with the first one,” Blake insisted as another whiff of smoke filled the kitchen and she turned her eyes to the waffle maker in horror watching as it seemed that the waffle in the making had been singed as well.  “Oh no!”
“Blake, it’s okay,” Brant couldn’t help but laugh watching her struggling to get the burning waffle out of the maker as she waved her arms in the air wildly to keep the smoke from filling the kitchen.
“Normally you know I cook so much better than this,” Blake began in a frenzy.
“I know you do little sister,” Brant approached her helping her clean up the new mess in front of her before he touched her shoulder gently, “as you’re one of the best.”
“Well you know this, but Seth still hasn’t seen my culinary talents at their finest,” Blake explained bringing her fingers through her hair quickly.
“I’m sure he will if he treats you right,” Brant offered up in a cryptic tone turning his attention to the man behind Blake.
“I have every intention of doing just that,” Seth answered tightly as he stood beside the remaining batter.
“Good because I’d hate to think of someone trying to hurt my sister again,” Brant reminded him pointedly before giving Blake a quick kiss on the top of the head.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Seth offered up watching the exchange between Blake and Brant as a silence swept over him.
“See you later princess,” Brant stepped back smiling at her once more before tapping at her cheek, “I still think you’re a wonderful chef.”
“Thanks Brant,” she smiled back at him watching him leave before turning her attention to Seth once again.  She noticed the quietness that had fallen over him after Brant’s arrival and as she stepped in towards him, she placed her arms around his waist in an impromptu hug.  “Earth to Seth.”
“Sorry,” he began shaking the daze that he’d been in as he looked down at her.
“You looked about a million miles away just now,” Blake offered up thinking about the drastic change in him as Brant had been in the room.
“I was just thinking about your brother,” he admitted honestly as something passed behind his eyes and he reached out to touch her face gently, “He sure thinks the world of you, doesn’t he?”
“We think the world of each other as Brant’s a good guy.  I mean sure he’s got this thing about him where he tries to act tough, but deep down when you get to the heart of him, he’s really an amazing guy,” Blake answered proudly thinking about her older brother, “He tries to protect me and sometimes it seems like a bit much…”
“No, not at all,” Seth shook his head upon her words, “as it’s a brother’s place to do everything in his power to protect his sister and I can’t say I blame him for thinking the worst about me after our falling out…”
“Yeah well I didn’t exactly talk to him about all that…” Blake took a step back out of his arms, “as I’d really rather not think about that considering that we’re having a nice morning making waffles together…”
“So you never talked to Brant about what happened between us then?” he pushed a bit further wondering if Brant would be honest with Blake about his father’s nefarious acts, but before he allowed himself to wedge his foot in his mouth, he opted to drop the topic for just a bit longer as he wanted to savor these few minutes he had with Blake before the real world crashed in upon them once again.
“Seth…” she started an obvious apprehension behind her eyes as she leaned back against the counter top.
“Forget I said anything,” Seth urge motioning towards the waffle maker, “In fact, how about I give this ago and we can see if my luck is any better now after our first two disasters?”
“Yeah sure,” Blake agreed watching him take charge of the waffle maker as her thoughts lingered back to the very thing that had torn her and Seth apart to begin with.  Now as she reflected on the exchange between Brant and Seth, she wondered if perhaps there was more to the story than she’d wanted to admit between them.  Granted she was in no way ready to accept the fact that her father was a rapist, but maybe just maybe there was some kind of confusion on Seth’s end that Brant could clear up.  After all it was possible that Seth had gotten the story all wrong and then perhaps they both could find out the real answers, though that would require going to Brant with Seth’s outrageous story and that in itself sent a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
“Blake, would you care to see the master in action,” Seth winked at her breaking her free of her thoughts.
“I still think you’re going to burn them as well,” she offered up painting on a smile and walked over to help him with the waffles vowing that she’d talk to Brant another day, but for now she was just going to live in the moment not dwelling on what was going wrong when right now she wanted to focus on the little things that were going right.


“Grady, let go,” Jade said firmly as she stepped out of his embrace. While she had no doubt that he believed the words he’d spoken, she couldn’t find it in herself to believe in them as well, “I don’t know if I can do this,” She whispered to herself as she kept her back turned to him.

“Jade, you can’t give up on me. I’m trying so hard to turn my life around,” Grady defended himself as he rose to his feet and took a step towards her, “You’re the reason for that. You’ve shown me what love really is, and I want to show you that I’m worthy of your attentions.”

She turned to face him and felt her heart breaking within her chest, “I’ve shown you what love really is? Then why is it that I feel like you don’t have the first clue about love? You have pushed your own brother away because he had the opportunity to seize the love he’d always wanted and live out a dream. You’ve turned your back on him.”

“I never turned my back on Russ,” He declared firmly.

“You might as well have. You’ve made it painfully obvious to everyone that you hate his wife. Do you have any idea what that must have felt like to Russell? I can’t imagine a more hurtful thing to do,” She shook her head, “Grady, I don’t want this to be about Avery when the truth is that this is about you.”

“How exactly is this about me?” He asked, “I spoke my mind, and that makes me the bad guy?”

“It does when you choose to do it amidst an air of friendship and loving. You said you were going to try to keep an open mind, but you weren’t thinking that way at all. All you did was take the opportunity to attack Avery. Is it going to be the same way with your drinking?” She asked as she watched him, “If you can’t keep your word with the little things, how do you expect me to believe it when it comes to the big ones?”

“This has nothing to do with my drinking,” He declared firmly.

“No, it has to do with your word, Grady. Right now, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. You gave me your word you would do your best to behave last night, but you didn’t. And you have me your word that you weren’t going to drink. Is that a lie too? Should I just give up now and walk out?” Jade asked as tears slipped down her cheeks, “I’m beginning to think that you were right. Maybe you are a lost cause, Grady, but not because you don’t have love and support. You’re a lost cause because you sabotage yourself. You don’t know how to change because you’re so stubborn and set in what you believe is right. Well guess what, Grady? Just because you believe something is right doesn’t make it so,” She declared as she shook her head, “I love you. Do you get that at all?”

“I do, Jade, and I love you too, baby,” He said as he reached for her.

She smacked his hand away, “Don’t. Don’t say that. You don’t love anyone, Grady. You’re not capable of it. All you know is hatred and anger, and I’ve had enough of that to last a lifetime,” Jade declared as she walked through the house.

“Jade, where are you going? Jade?!” Grady called out after her as he followed her into the living room.

“I’m leaving, Grady,” Jade grabbed her purse and jacket, “I’m not fighting to get through to you anymore. I’m not fighting anymore,” She surrendered as she threw open the front door and ran down the drive.

“Jade. Jade! Jade!!” Grady cried out after her as she ran away from his house and from his love.

...to be continued...